Mobile telephone technology is rapidly spreading throughout the world and Africa has become the fastest growing mobile market. Access to mobile phones has lead to a substantial increase in services in the poorest regions of world, such as calling for medical help or opening a bank account. But nearly 500 million people with mobile phones have no reliable access to electricity for charging them.
”Almost 80 percent of Kenyans live in rural areas and for them it may take five hours to charge their phones. They have approximately five kilometres to the closest charging point. Then they have to wait for 2-3 hours while the telephone is being charged, pay for the charging and return home. But through Powerfy, the charging can move out to rural areas close to where people live”, Johan Beckmann said.
Powerfy is the name of the social enterprise through which Johan Beckmann plans to role out a network of micro-franchises in rural Africa that will charge mobile phones using solar-power.
Johan Beckmann is one of eight social entrepreneurs who in the spring of 2012 participated in the Sida-supported Outreach Accelerator Programme. The eight-week pilot programme has been described as a boot camp, set up to assist social entrepreneurs to transform their innovative ideas into realistic and long-term solutions to some of the world’s social and environmental problems.
During two months the participants have received individual coaching, learned about different business models, developed their communication and advertising skills, studied financial planning and worked to identify and understand their markets. The programme has also helped them connect with mentors, partners and investors.
According to programme director Emma Rung the participants can be divided into two groups: those with a business background who need to learn about measuring social impact and how to act in the local context, and those with an NGO background who need to learn about doing business.
“It’s a very exciting mix. What they have in common is that they operate in emerging markets in some of the world's poorest countries”, Emma Rung said.
Already prior to being accepted to the Accelerator programme, Johan Beckmann had set up his business and secured some of the financing. Still he felt the boot camp experience was very useful since it gave him new contacts and new inspiration.
“I was lacking a network of contacts for social entrepreneurs. Many of the other participants also work in Africa, and that was of great benefit for all of us. I also met investors, lawyers, IT people, PR and marketing experts and others who are willing to help entrepreneurs with a social cause at almost no cost or at reduced price.”
Others, such as Martha Sanchez, hadn’t progressed quite as far before joining the programme. Her start-up TRIU aims to simultaneously address two global problems: pollution and lack of shelter. She says that in her native Mexico the average person throws away five bottles every day and 30 percent of the garbage in garbage dumps is made up of plastic bottles.
“At the same time many people lack shelter. Some have started to use bottles as building material but it’s quite difficult since they aren’t made for that”, Martha Sanchez said.
That is how she came up with the idea of a bottle with a triangular shape that can be reused as building material rather than thrown away. Martha Sanchez hopes that her design will be attractive to the bottle industry since they won’t need to spend money recovering and recycling their products. When Martha joined the Outreach Accelerator Programme her start-up was only a dream.
“I didn’t know how to connect with people that could help me or how to present my idea, and I didn’t know of the different ways to produce the bottle. Now I am very close to building the first house out of plastic bottles.”
Sida senior adviser Johan Åkerblom pointed out that in the future all businesses need to be sustainable and that social entrepreneurs are the front runners setting a good example for others.
“Many social entrepreneurs have bright ideas but many times their business models need to be developed to be sustainable. We want those companies to be profitable in order to survive for many years and deliver goods and services to poor people.”
The Outreach Accelerator Programme is run by non-profit organization Social Entrepreneurship Forum and financed by Sida at 70 percent. According to Johan Åkerblom the lessons learned from the pilot will hopefully be used in upcoming programmes both in Sweden and in developing countries.
”This is a new way of solving problems. Much of what we are trying to do with the help of governments and organizations might be done better by entrepreneurs. They are very keen to reach quick results in order to break even and that is a very good incentive.”